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How to get car insurance in 5 easy steps

You can get car insurance directly from an insurance company, by talking to an agent, or through an independent online insurance marketplace like Policygenius.

Anna SwartzAndrew Hurst


Anna Swartz

Anna Swartz

Managing Editor & Auto Insurance Expert

Anna Swartz is a managing editor and auto insurance expert at Policygenius, where she oversees our car insurance coverage. Previously, she was a senior staff writer at, as well as an associate writer at The Dodo.

 & Andrew Hurst

Andrew Hurst

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Expert reviewed

Expert reviewed

This article has been reviewed by a licensed Policygenius expert to ensure that sources, statistics, and claims meet our standard for accurate and unbiased advice.

Learn more about our editorial review process.


Fabio Faschi, PLCS, SBCS, CLCS

Fabio Faschi, PLCS, SBCS, CLCS

Licensed Property & Casualty Insurance Expert

Fabio Faschi is a licensed property and casualty insurance agent. His expertise on home and auto insurance has been featured on Forbes, Consumer Affairs,, Apartment Therapy, SFGATE, Bankrate, and Lifehacker.

Updated | 4 min read

Policygenius content follows strict guidelines for editorial accuracy and integrity. Learn about our editorial standards and how we make money.

While there are a few ways to get car insurance, the best and most efficient way to get covered is by comparing quotes from multiple companies online. That way you can quickly find the most affordable rates in your area for the coverage you need.

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No matter which way you choose to get car insurance, you should start by gathering the personal information you’ll need, including the social security numbers of all the drivers in your household, your driver's license number, and details about your car. Then:

How to buy car insurance in five steps

  1. Figure out how much auto coverage you need

  2. Fill out an application

  3. Compare auto insurance quotes

  4. Pick a car insurance company and get insured

  5. Cancel your old car insurance policy

1. Figure out how much auto coverage you need

Figuring out how much coverage you need is one of the most important parts of buying auto insurance.

 Generally, it's a good idea for drivers to get as much liability coverage as they can afford. Adding comprehensive and collision coverage is a good idea, but the amount of insurance you should get depends on your car's value, too. A typical full-coverage policy includes:

  • Liability coverage: Covers the costs if you cause an accident, including when you damage someone else’s property with your car. Liability insurance is required in most states, and it’s divided into two parts: Bodily injury liability (BIL) and property damage liability (PDL)

  • Personal injury protection: Covers medical and rehabilitation expenses if you or your passengers are injured in a car accident. Also covers other related expenses, like lost wages

  • Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage: Covers the costs if you’re in an accident caused by a driver who either doesn’t have insurance or whose insurance can’t pay for the full extent of the damage

  • Collision coverage: Covers damage to your own vehicle after an accident, regardless of who was at fault

  • Comprehensive coverage: Covers any damage to your car that can happen when it isn’t being driven, including damage from extreme weather, falling objects, flood, fire, vandalism, and theft

  • Gap insurance: If your car is totaled, this pays out the difference between the car’s actual cash value (ACV), which includes depreciation, and the amount you still owe on a car loan or lease so you aren’t stuck making payments on a car you no longer have

Most insurers offer additional coverage options, like roadside assistance or new car replacement coverage that you can add to your policy (just remember that more coverage means higher rates).

Each state has minimum car insurance coverage requirements. Your state’s minimums are a starting point for determining coverage, but they’re too low to sufficiently cover you in the event of a major accident.

Genius tip

We recommend drivers have at least $100,000 per person/$300,000 per accident in bodily injury liability and $100,000 in property damage liability coverage in order to be fully protected. Comprehensive and collision coverage are optional, but they can be valuable protection for your car.

2. Fill out an application

Whether you’re buying car insurance for the first or renewing your coverage with the same insurer, you’ll need the following information on hand:

  • Names, birthdays and driver’s license numbers for all drivers in the household

  • Social Security numbers for all drivers in the household

  • VINs (Vehicle Information Numbers) or make and model years for all vehicles

  • An address for the insured (where you live and where the car is garaged, which is usually the same place)

  • Your declarations page from your most recent prior car insurance policy, if you have it

As you go through the application process, your answers to certain questions may earn you discounts on your coverage, like whether you have any accidents or violations on your record, whether you’re a full time student, and if your car is equipped with features like an anti-theft device or GPS tracker.

You’ll also set your coverage amounts — called limits — when you apply for insurance. It’s generally a good idea to have higher coverage limits, even though adding more coverage will affecthow much you pay for car insurance. You’ll also have to choose deductible amounts for your comprehensive and collision coverage.

When you get a quote online or use a car insurance calculator, some optional types of coverage may automatically be included that you don’t actually want or need. For example, if you're a member of AAA and you already have roadside assistance, you don't need to pay extra to add it to your car insurance policy.

As you shop for insurance, be sure to look carefully at whether there are any add-ons you can remove. 

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3. Compare auto insurance quotes

It's a good idea to get quotes from a few different insurance companies before you choose a policy. You should also have an idea of how much you can afford to pay for coverage before you start shopping. 

You should look for the insurance company that offers you the most protection and the best customer service at the lowest rates.

Not sure which company to go with? Use our compare car insurance page or our list of the best car insurance companies to learn more about your options before you pick a policy.

Genius tip

Setting a higher comprehensive or collision deductible leads to lower premiums, because you’re agreeing to pay more out of pocket in the event that you file a claim on your comp or collision insurance.

What are the different ways to shop for car insurance?

There are a few ways that you can shop for car insurance. Depending on your preference, you could buy a policy directly from an insurance company, work with an agent, or get car insurance from a broker.

Each of these methods for getting insured has its own pros and cons that you should consider. Your own insurance history, knowledge, and preferences will impact your choice.

Buy directly from an insurance companyMany companies make it simple to get quotes and buy coverage onlineYou’ll only see quotes from one company at a time, so you’ll have to compare costs yourself to find the cheapest rate
Buy through an agentAgents have physical offices in your area so you can buy insurance in in personSome agents may charge additional fees or only show you quotes from certain companies
Shop through an online marketplaceYou’ll be able to compare quotes from multiple companies at once, without having to enter your information again and againYou won’t be able to visit an office in person, so this option is best for people who like shopping online or over the phone

4. Choose a policy and get insured

Once you’ve compared your quotes and picked an insurance company that you feel good about, it’s time to get covered.

When you buy a car insurance policy, you’ll set a start date for when your policy will start, and you’ll pay your first premium. 

You’ll typically receive proof of coverage and some sort of welcome package from your insurer, with information about how to access your account and where to see your ID cards or declarations page.

5. Cancel your old car insurance policy

If you’ve been shopping for car insurance to replace a current policy, wait until after your new coverage is in place before you cancel your old policy. You want to make sure you don’t leave any gaps in your coverage.

To do this, set the cancellation date of your old policy and the effective date of your new policy on the same day. Insurance policies begin and end at 12:01 AM on a given date, so you don’t have to worry about having a full day of overlapping insurance.

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How do I buy car insurance for the first time?

If this is your first time buying car insurance, an expert can help you determine your coverage needs and set a budget. An independent agent, like the ones at Policygenius, can take your information once and use it to get quotes from multiple companies at a time, saving you time. They can also help you compare your options and choose the best policy for you.

How do I renew my car insurance policy?

Many car insurance policies automatically renew at the end of the policy term. You’ll be notified by mail or email if your policy is set to renew, and you may be prompted to confirm that your information is all the same before renewing your policy. If you decide to switch companies, you must have a new car insurance policy in place before your current policy expires so you can avoid a lapse in coverage.

Should I buy car insurance through a broker or a company?

An independent broker isn’t tied to any one company, their job is to help you shop for insurance and advise you through the process. They do all the legwork for you, from plugging in your information to customizing your quotes so you can see how much you’d be paying for coverage from different carriers. We recommend buying car insurance through an independent broker, like our experts at Policygenius, so you can compare quotes from multiple companies in one go.

Can you get car insurance instantly?

Yes, you can get car insurance instantly with most insurance companies. After you've compared rates online and are ready to buy coverage, set your policy's start date as the day that you're shopping. Your policy will go into effect right away.